On 21 March 2014, for the first time in Europe, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by the Italian Ministry of Justice, the Ombudsman for Childhood and Adolescence and Bambinisenzasbarre ONLUS, Italian member of the Children of Prisoners Europe network, on behalf of the estimated 100,000 children visiting their parents in Italian prisons. The Memorandum formally acknowledges that these children have a right to an emotional bond with their imprisoned parent and reaffirms that the latter has a right to play his/her parental role. The Memorandum is, in its entirety, a revolutionary document which commits the penitentiary system to transforming the relational and care-related aspects of prisoners (taking their parental role into consideration) and to changing its visits culture, being aware of the presence of the child who is innocent and yet who may be impacted by the social burden that a parent’s incarceration can cause. The Memorandum is, above all, an important message for civil society. It is a demand for a change in attitude; a change in a point of view that must focus on the children and not on the imprisoned parents and their legal obligations. At the same time, it is a strong reminder of the need to start a process of social integration and, more generally, of a deeper cultural change towards the most vulnerable party involved: the child.
“The ‘Charter of Children of Imprisoned Parents’ commits the penitentiary system to changing various aspects of their relations with, and treatment of, the detainee, taking into consideration his/her parental role, and to changing the way they receive individuals, with greater awareness of the innocent, free children who are so often burdened by marginalisation, prejudices, financial difficulties and the shame caused by the detention of their parent.”
In July 2014, Bambinisenzasbarre began an artistic project involving both children and their imprisoned fathers in Milan’s Opera prison. Entitled “The Dinosaur and the Policeman” and supported by the Alta Mane Italia Foundation, the one-year project is based around painting being a valuable tool for children as it allows them to express artistically what they are often unable to communicate verbally, and at the same time it allows adults to better understand their own emotions and reactions. Such artistic activities that are shared between a prisoner-parent and their child bring both pleasure and confidence to the parties involved. These shared activities can reveal a child’s potential to adapt even in the most challenging circumstances.
In October and November 2014, Bambinisenzasbarre’s President, Lia Sacerdote, gave two two-day training sessions based on the issue of children of imprisoned parents. The first was training school teachers who come into contact with these children and focussed on explaining the Bambinisenzasbarre model of child-friendly prison visits, “Spazio Giallo”. The training also addressed how to render socially acceptable what can potentially be a traumatic experience for a child. The second training session took place at the Italian Penitentiary School in Rome and was given to 90 deputy inspectors. The title of this training was, “How to combine security with welcoming children visiting prison”. The Memorandum of Understanding was presented at this event.
To celebrate Human Rights Day on 10 December this year, Bambinisenzasbarre is organising an event at the Senate in Rome to launch the second edition of “The Right to be a Human Being” of The Human Rights Anthology, originally issued in 1968 by UNESCO, of which Bambinisenzasbarre acquired publishing rights. The Memorandum of Understanding will be officially announced at this event.